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US

Mexico: 22 Americans among dead in drug-related mass graves

Mexican guards
Mexican guards inspect a mass grave site  

FBI aiding in border area investigation

November 30, 1999
Web posted at: 4:49 p.m. EST (2149 GMT)


In this story:

Clinton: Drug traffickers 'particularly vicious'

Tip from informant

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



EL PASO, Texas (CNN) -- More than 100 people, including 22 Americans, are believed to have been killed by a Mexican drug cartel and buried on two ranches near the border city of Juarez, Mexican authorities said Tuesday.

The FBI is sending agents and forensic experts to the area, south of El Paso, Texas, to help dig up and identify the remains.

  INFORMATION HOTLINE
Relatives of missing people can call these numbers for more information:

800-338-5856
800-716-7852

Within Mexico:
001-880-338-5856
 
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VideoCNN's Jim Hill goes to the area of the grave sites.
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Mexico's Attorney General Jorge Madrazo said the victims were believed to have been killed by the Juarez drug cartel, the dominant Mexican drug-trafficking organization in the mid-1990s.

He told Mexico's Televisa network that a list had been compiled naming 120 people who "hypothetically could be buried" at the two sites.

One U.S. government source said authorities have uncovered some human remains in recent days. According to sources, a number of the potential victims are thought to be drug couriers who drug lords suspected of being informants.

Other victims may include people who refused to cooperate with drug traffickers or persons who witnessed illegal activity.

Clinton: Drug traffickers 'particularly vicious'

 Many missing in dangerous area

In the last four years, scores of people -- both Mexicans and Americans -- have disappeared in the Juarez area, which is on the main corridor drug traffickers use to transport illegal drugs from Mexico to the United States.

Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, is considered one of the most violent cities in Mexico, with much of the violence linked to drug smuggling.

President Bill Clinton said he had not received confirmation that 22 Americans were among the victims. He condemned the killings as "a horrible example" of the excesses of Mexico's drug cartels.

"I think it reinforces the imperative of our trying not only to protect our border but to work with the Mexican authorities to try to combat these," Clinton said in Washington.

"We had a lot of success a few years ago in taking down a number of the Colombian drug cartels, and one of the adverse consequences of that was a lot of the operations were moved north into Mexico," the president said. "There are organized criminal operations there and they are particularly vicious."

Tip from informant

Mexican and U.S. authorities were tipped off about the possible mass graves by informants, a U.S. government source in Washington said.

On Monday night, dozens of armed Mexican soldiers, some wearing black ski masks, surrounded one of the ranches in a desolate area 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of Juarez.

White iron gates towered in front of the ranch, known locally as "the shooting range."

A concrete block wall covered with graffiti surrounded the rest of the property, located across the street from a junkyard. Topping the concrete wall was a chain-link fence with razor wire.

No bodies were seen being carried out. Several soldiers left the ranch with duffel bags. No one at the scene would talk to reporters.

As part of a joint investigation with Mexican authorities, FBI forensic experts will help with the identification of the remains using DNA analysis, a process expected to take several weeks.

Madrazo said a joint command center would be set up in El Paso, where the remains of victims will be brought for identification.

Mexico City Bureau Chief Harris Whitbeck and Correspondents Charles Zewe, Pierre Thomas and Jim Hill contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
93 arrested in sting on Mexican drug cartel
September 22, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Federal Bureau of Investigation - FBI Home Page
CIA -- The World Factbook 1999 -- Mexico
Drug Enforcement Agency
U.S. Customs Service
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